Recently I received a lovely message from a sister, she was concerned about something and wanted to give advice, but she was absolutely terrified of coming across as if she were being judgmental. She worried that I might block her, or it might affect our friendship. Therefore, her manner of giving the advice was greatly influenced by these fears. I felt deeply appreciative that someone had taken the time to message – it showed an element of care to my mind, and it also allowed me to understand that should you receive a message from someone it allows you to reflect and to examine your own reactions.
Now-we live in a world of two extremes: either we advise people by breaking down everything they stand for without appropriately giving the thought any consideration or we advise under the banner of ‘superiority’. As Muslims both of these become devoid of sincerity and often lead to many, many arguments due to a difference in opinion on advice given.
An-naseeha is one of the core aspects of being a Muslim and must be done with utmost care and deliberation. The Holy Prophet (s) classified it as: “the Religion (of Islam) IS good advice”. We have become afraid to practice on this for the exact fear that my friend experienced – “will it be taken in the manner it was intended?”, “will the advice come across as judgmental?”, and “will I be held responsible for having an opposing opinion?”
The difference between opinions and advice
Advice stems from a genuine desire for good for the Deen of Allah Ta’ala or to the Muslim Ummah and it’s leaders. Looking at the livse of the Sahabah, many years after the passing of the Holy Prophet (s) they would constantly advise but with utmost care and consideration. Opinions in direct opposition to this is simply a statement of what we ‘feel’ is the correct way because of our personal ideals and cultural processes. The line that exists between the two is extremely fine and must be tread with care and respect.
Due to the massive grey area that exists between opinions and advice – we often find ourselves hearing people saying, “I don’t want to hear your advice”, or being dubbed as the “haram police” for giving advice that they might not relate to or want to accept. So to take care of this great sunnah, we must re-examine our manner of dishing out advice, we have to ask ourselves why is that a particular action drives us to give said advice , and most importantly how much of it is advice based on the sunnah or on personal irritation.
Once Amir Muaawiya (ra) sent a message to Aisha (ra) in which he asked her for advice. He asked her to be concise in her advice, and she responded with the most succinct advice. Her advice took into consideration his status, situation and the context of the advice asked and given. A man from madina narrates that Muawiya (ra) wrote a letter to Aisha (ra) asking her : “Write to me and advise me and do not make it lengthy. So Aisha (ra) wrote to Muawiyah (ra) after writing the Salaam she wrote: “He who seeks Allah’s pleasure at the cost of people’s anger , Allah will suffice him against the trouble caused by people and he who seeks the pleasure of men at the cost of Allah’s anger , Allah will leave him to the mercy of people. Wasalamu alaik”. This hadith is narrated in Tirmizi.
These are the four main factors that must be prioritized when giving advice:
- The addressee: It is imperative to evaluate who we are advising. Understand that the person might be aware of certain elements that we might not be aware of or might have different experiences that impact their decisions.
- The situation: No two situations will ever be the same and therefore advice must be given with this understanding, that every situation should be looked at individually and without applying a one size fits all understanding when giving advice.
- The Context: Within every situation there is a unique context that each person experiences differently and will affect any advice given. We must be aware of this context when giving advice so that we do not place a difficulty on a person without taking into consideration their unique challenges and upheavals.
- The rules of Islam: We should NEVER ever bend the rules of Allah in giving advice– but we must be aware of every possibility of a rule. At times due to our limited knowledge, we can give advice without being aware of the permissibility of the ruling under a different school of thought or a fatwa.